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An exclusive glimpse into the life of Jan Ernst on his exciting travels

Ceramic artist Jan Ernst shared his exclusive travel diary with H&G while debuting his newest collection

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By House & Garden South Africa | November 14, 2022 | Art

For three months, ceramic artist Jan Ernst travelled from Brussels to Milan and onto Bordeaux for a working residency, where he debuted his newest collection. The below are short diary entries of his travels along this journey, exclusive to H&G.

Monday, 16 May

I woke up to the smell of fresh croissants and the sounds of Brussels outside my window. An Uber driver and some kid on an electric scooter were having a debate over traffic rules, but I was in the capital of Europe, and nothing was going to ruin the moment. Filled with excitement, I navigated cobblestone streets, crossing canals and open piazzas with angelic sculptures towering over the throngs of tourists. Here I was, after months of preparation in beautiful Belgium to showcase my new WOMB lighting collection with Galerie Revel. Collectible Design Fair attracts designers from all over Europe. For three days, the Vanderborght Building transforms into a display of functional art and collectable design that challenges traditional craftsmanship and pushes contemporary materials. After a week of setting up the booth, entertaining the press and meeting new faces, we got on a train and left for Bordeaux.

Relief fragments up close and personal, Image Jan Ernst

Wednesday, 01 June

The day started with my 10km cycle next to the Garonne River from La Tresne into Bordeaux city centre. What used to be a Roman village had evolved into a metropolis with fountains, cathedrals and city gates with spires that could set the backdrop for an old-school Disney movie. After collecting images and old maps from the library for what would be the basis of my residency project, I headed over to Studio Primitif, a shared space for ceramic enthusiasts and my workspace for the next few weeks.

Monday, 09 June

Like a freshly graduated student, I stuffed a backpack full of clothes and left for Milan – and Salone. It was sweltering, and the streets were buzzing with artists and designers all competing for the city’s hottest commodity: a taxi with aircon. Later that afternoon, the city smelled like jasmine as I walked back to my Airbnb from the Duomo di Milano. For the first time, everything was quiet, and I realised that I had never experienced something quite like this moment. Sandwiched between the sheer grandeur of the architecture and the ubiquitous glamour of luxury fashion flagships, I felt quiet gratitude, having just met my representatives from Galerie Philia and Collection Gallery for the first time.

Taking in the beautiful landscape all around from land to sea, Image Jan Ernst

Thursday, 23 June

It has been more than a month since my arrival – and I am back in France. The residency project has evolved from paper to maquette, and the first pieces are coming out of the kiln. Prince [owner of Gallery Revel] and I decided that the composition had to reflect the landscape of Bordeaux as a wine region to tie it back to South Africa, specifically Cape Town. From my research and exploration of the area, I decided to interpret natural elements – the vineyards and dunes – in an abstract manner with the Garonne River as a central organising element in the work.

Friday, 15 July

Today I am overjoyed. All fifteen pieces made of chamotte clay survived the final firing. Up to now, we have only seen the individual elements, but putting the puzzle pieces together and seeing a complete composition felt incredible. Without realising it, the organic nature of the work started resembling something archaeological dug up from a historic site.

Galerie Revel’s booth at the Collectible Design Fair 2022, Image supplied

Wednesday, 13 July

Winding through the winelands, we headed to a dilapidated chapel on top of a hill that would serve as the location for an outdoor photoshoot. The soft morning light illuminated the structure through thin medieval slits in the wall and set the mood for discovering ‘relics’ from a past life.

Tuesday, 02 August

It is my last day in Bordeaux, and we are hanging the work in the gallery. We waited for late afternoon to switch on the LED light in the relief and take the final interior images. As the photographer puts away his camera, melancholy fills me. The next time the work is displayed will be at Paris Design Week, and by then, I will be back in Cape Town and my studio. But, for now, I drink good wine and swim in the Mediterranean with my partner Colin.

Inspiration was all around Jan during his travels, Image Jan Ernst

Saturday, 06 August

After 10 glorious days of travelling to Saint-Émilion, Arcachon, Marseille and Paris, it was time to return home. The South of France was captivating with natural settings, such as the Calanques with olive trees hanging from cliffs over crystal clear water and the quaint town of Cassis (and the best seafood). Colin and I took a train back to Paris, where we spent two days exploring the city. I really wanted to see the Fondation Louis Vuitton – and everything about it was breathtaking. The scale, innovation of material and artistic genius reminded me why I love being a designer and maker. We had our last meal on the terrace of a typical, red-awninged Parisian restaurant in Montmartre before heading back to the hotel. France had been a journey, but every experience led to something greater. My camera roll is filled with memories and my heart is full.

Relief fragments at the ruins, Image Jan Ernst

Words originally by Jan Ernst